Story and Photos courtesy of Graham Potter and www.horseracingonly.com.auBy Robert Heathcote | Thursday, March 3, 2011
Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.It wasn't all that long ago that the number of races programmed for mid-week and provincial racing was reduced from eight down to seven.We were also told that these races have now been added elsewhere into the state’s programming so they were not actually lost to the industry.I am still trying to work that one out!This is very concerning to trainers and owners with the main reason given that the TAB hold on the first race of the day, around lunch time was always the lowest on the day so they simply scrapped what was essentially 'race 1' on the day. More and more alarmingly, we have recently seen two examples where the racing administrators have seen fit to delete another race from a metropolitan mid-week card leaving only the six races on the card at a Metropolitan race meeting. Sacrilege indeed! Metropolitan mid-week racing should still be the stepping stone to the more lucrative Saturday races! It’s where the up-and-coming good horses should go to race!
The deletion of any race in town has to be a major concern to all in the industry from jockeys, trainers, owners, breeders and right down to the everyday punter!What is happening here. The red light is certainly flashing and the siren is blaring! Is metropolitan mid-week racing going into 'cardiac arrest' or is it the industry full stop?Why is this the case where we see only six metro races on a program … and twice in such a short period of time … and is this going to be something we will see time and time again?It certainly raises a number of questions as to why is this happening?Does it reflect a diminishing horse population?Has it anything to do with race programming? Maybe it's the low levels of prize money! Is it just a phase that arrives at certain times of the year?Or does it come down to the fact that there is just too much racing?Or is there something else influencing the field sizes?Perhaps another question which may be asked also, has the importance of metropolitan mid-week racing declined so much that it's just another race meeting for the punter to bet on? One owner commented to me recently that so much of our racing this past few years has become like those mechanical horse racing 'arcade amusement games' we see at the 'Ekka' or in the odd casino. Just numbers and colours to have a bet on … like throwing a chip onto the roulette table and hoping your number comes up on the wheel!I certainly don't proclaim to have the answers to these questions but I am none the less very concerned. My biggest concern is perhaps the demeaning of the importance of racing at the mid-week meetings on the metropolitan race tracks. I believe that all owners, trainers, jockeys and breeders should still aspire to winning 'in the city' at Doomben or Eagle Farm.It should be worth more 'status' than a regular provincial race and yet it has seemingly become meaningless these past few years? Again, WHY? Our metro racing, in my opinion, must still be the second level of 'quality' racing behind the Saturday meetings and not just ‘another provincial type' of meeting that it now seems to have become!Does the 'Tail wag the Dog' now with the TAB requiring a race for the punters every five minutes and it doesn't really matter where and what it is as long as it's something to bet on?You betcha!Is the industry haemorrhaging that much that we can afford to have only six races to bet on in the city?Betting turnover provides the fuel to the industry to make it function and there's no doubt that whilst the cry is loud and strong to increase prize money across the board, but especially at the provincial meetings, we do need the level of turnover to increase.Is this the major problem that is affecting the race programming and decision making?I do not believe that we do have a declining horse population as can be seen by the field sizes we regularly see across racing in South East Queensland now.I can't comment accurately on elsewhere as I do not pay enough attention to racing outside of South East Queensland.Racing Queensland will be able to bombard me with statistics generated by a computer that tell us that there have been 11.678543 runners per race in the last 3486 races or the like.Great, but the simple facts to me and my owners are that the fields are generally always big when I want to run a horse in a particular race and I find it tougher now than I used to when finding the right races for my horses.Race programming is certainly a major issue and again it will be argued, probably successfully by the administrators, that there are available races on a regular basis for every class of horse. This to me brings me back to my earlier comment about the importance of mid-week racing in the city. I now believe it is classed in the same category as a race on the cushion track on a Friday night at Caloundra!Personally I think the introduction of synthetic track racing is aimed along those lines … racing to provide an avenue to for the everyday punter to have a bet on! The quality isn't important as long as there are some numbers to bet on.I don't like racing my horses on the synthetic tracks … which is my choice … but take out Toowoomba and the SCCT meetings and my programming options have certainly been diminished.Throw in the fact that there have been no 1350m races at Ipswich since the floods and whammo, again less race options with no other options for horses looking for further than the 1200m races added since the floods!It was only just a week or so ago that we were advised on the RQ website when the problem was likely to be rectified at the Ipswich track so we could accurately program our horses!I have a stable of around fifty horses and I do recall the time when a horse would draw gate 15 in a race and we could say, no, we will scratch and run next week as there is another race option.That is rarely the case now as when a run comes for a particular horse regardless of the gate or the track condition, you basically have to take it as there may be no other suitable race available in the short term.I know from talking with my colleagues that there are plenty of frustrations when it comes to finding suitable races for individual horses and many hours do go into this task.That's how I lost all of my hair to be honest!Like I said, I don't have the answers to the questions I posed earlier but I guess the main reason why these questions arise is down to money. Is it that the Thoroughbred racing industry doesn't have the available funds it once did and is the pool getting smaller and smaller? Is the competition for the gambling dollar too strong now?These are probably the reasons why the racing industry is going through this rationalisation process.I have always believed that good racing will generate a higher interest and create more turnover.To get good races we have to put up the prize money and attract the better class of horses.I would like to see this happen at the metropolitan race meetings starting with the mid-week meetings and the strategic provincial meetings which are available to everyone to race in.The better tracks, better prize money, the better jockeys, will attract the better horses which will create a better race meeting with more allure to the punter to have a bet which will create better turnover.There will of course be many that disagree with this opinion but like I always say, even the biggest twits in this racing game are entitled to their opinions, including me!Before I finish though … getting back to only six races in town … it is a crying shame and surely an extra race can be added at short notice and we can get a full field for Joe Blogs to have a bet on, even if it is at only three or four days notice!Heaven forbid if a two-year-old maiden race was to be added as we are getting deeper into the racing season and the numbers of the juveniles are increasing.Are the racing coffers that depleted?If so, then it's getting real scary!Lastly, it was a reminder that it truly is Racing Queensland now. Congratulations to the winner of the Greyhound Of The Year … Dashing Corsair.It's a great picture of him on the front cover of the new racing calendar!
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